Why everyone should take mediation training

  • May 22, 2018
  • Kari Boyle

Over the years I have been asked many times, by lawyers, law students and others, whether they should take mediation training.  Most were interested in mediation, many participated as counsel at mediation but few planned to be full-time mediators.  My standard answer has been that mediation training is valuable to everyone as it provides key life skills that are useful in all parts of our lives, not just in our legal career.  Mediation training teaches us about the dynamics of human behaviour and provides a fundamental suite of skills for dealing with inevitable conflict in healthy ways that prevent conflict from escalating and help to preserve relationships.  Why wouldn’t you want to know how to do this?

Little did I know that I was significantly under-selling mediation training!  A recent journal article by Deborah A. Malizia and Jessica Katz Jameson and Ms. Jameson’s related article provide empirical evidence that mediation training also improves the well-being of the mediator.  At a time when many in the legal profession are struggling with a multitude of wellness challenges this comes as very good news.

The authors argue that many of the problems that lawyers (and others) are struggling with are related to issues of perspective-taking (being open, curious and able to see things from the other’s perspective), self-awareness, and self-regulation.  Jessica Jameson says that the skills learned in mediation training have the potential to ameliorate threats to mental health and promote resilience and overall well-being.  The articles examine three streams of research and theory:

  1. Studies of the impact on student peer mediators in the K-12 context:

    “Studies of peer mediation programs have found that students who receive mediation training reap the greatest benefits from the programs, including increased academic success, enhanced social and emotional competence, increased self-esteem, and reduced aggressive behavior and disciplinary action.” These benefits exist in the short and long term.
  1. Studies of the effects of social emotional learning, mindfulness practice, and emotion regulation support behaviours: 

    “Mindfulness includes self-regulation of attention … and an orientation of openness, curiosity, and acceptance.”  Further, a 2017 study found that “those who helped others regulate their emotions showed the greatest decrease in depression.”  These are skills learned and practised in mediation and we can apply these skills to improve our own emotional lives.
  1. Theoretical support from neuroscience:

    The authors say that “nine prefrontal cortex functions are essential to resilience and emotional well-being.  Mediator skills are closely aligned with six of these function: (1) attuned communication; (2) emotional balance; (3) empathy; (4) moral awareness; (5) response flexibility; and (6) insight.” 

At the conclusion of the article, the authors identify law students and practising lawyers as groups who would especially benefit from mediation training and practice.  They refer to the shocking American Bar Association 2016 report and other statistics that confirm very high rates of lawyer depression, anxiety, stress, and alcohol/substance abuse in the profession.  The concerns are similar here in Canada.

Based on this research I suggest that we consider mediation training as one way to counter these trends and to improve well-being of law students, lawyers and other legal professionals.  It is already available, accessible and enjoyable.  And who knows, it might also support our access to justice efforts by shifting the justice system to be more client-centred and collaborative.

I would love comments, especially from those who have taken mediation training.

Kari D. Boyle is a coordinator with the BC Family Justice Innovation Lab.